Introduction / History
The Plains Cree are one of the larger First Nations people groups in North America. They live throughout the prairies of Western Canada in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan with a few in the U.S. in Montana. Some also live in the boreal forests of Alberta. Their communities are scattered throughout the area in a loose network of reserves and nonreserve settlements, as well as in larger towns and urban centers.
Most of the Plains Cree are professing Christians belonging to a variety of denominations, though predominantly Catholic, Anglican, or Pentecostal. However, traditional spiritual beliefs and practices remain strong, even among Christians. Many see Christianity as dealing with the afterlife, whereas traditional ways deal with the issues and problems of daily life.
Faced with such challenges as high levels of poverty and unemployment, the Plains Cree have made some gains in raising their economic status. Cree language instruction has been established in some schools and colleges, and efforts to encourage higher education among young people have raised the level of education in recent decades. However, in spite of these gains, Plains Cree continue to lag far behind the majority of Canadians in economic status. High rates of alcoholism and suicide and the breakdown of traditional cultural values have weakened family ties and the underlying cultural fabric. A revived sense of cultural identity is evident in the resurgence of cultural ceremonies such as the Sun Dance, as well as the revival of traditional religion, and a small but growing corpus of language materials and published texts.
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